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Editor’s View: First West End job share shows progress doesn’t happen without pressure

Charlene Ford with her son, Jenson. The actor has returned to 42nd Street in the West End's first job share

For a sector that generally self-identifies as liberal and progressive, the current global state of affairs can make for depressing reading for theatre: whether it is the slow-motion car crash of Brexit, the seemingly endless in-fighting within our two main political parties, or Donald Trump in the US.

So, it is refreshing to be able to report good news closer to home – developments that appear to represent genuine progress from leading figures in the theatre world.

First, there was the news on our front page last week that a number of major commercial producers were signing up to the #YesOrNo campaign [1] to give every actor that auditions for their productions a response letting them know whether they had got the part, or not.

This week, seemingly disproving the maxim that only bad things come in threes, we have two more pieces of excellent news on our front page: Charlene Ford has become the first West End performer to take on a role on a job-share basis [2], and the Royal Shakespeare Company has announced its new repertory company [3] that reflects the nation “in terms of gender, ethnicity, regionality and disability”.

Each of these developments is a landmark moment and all represent progress in modernising theatre’s sometimes outdated employment practices. Those embracing these new practices should be warmly congratulated, but we should also not forget that none of these developments has happened by accident: the advances have been hard-won.

The #YesOrNo campaign has been tirelessly led by actor Danny Lee Wynter, while West End leading ladies including Caroline Sheen, Gina Beck and Joanna Riding have spearheaded calls for job shares in Theatreland, supported by pressure group Parents in Performing Arts [4]. It is also worth noting, for those looking to follow Ford’s example, that the actor had to push hard to be granted the job share, with 42nd Street’s producers initially resistant.

Even after the news was revealed, the statement that they are “pleased to have abided by the ACAS code of practice” seems more grudging than celebratory.

Meanwhile, at the RSC, you can trace the roots of the representative rep company – and the company’s more general very welcome shift towards greater representation on stage – to the very public falling-out over its mainly white casting of The Orphan of Zhao [5] in 2012, and the wider discussions across the industry that have been prompted by the Act for Change [6] initiative.

Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum.